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The Greenhouse Effect and the Bathtub Effect

The global impact of climate change caused by increases of human-generated greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere is largely irreversible for at least 1,000 years, according to a paper published in the February 10, 2009 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Rising sea levels threatening many coastal areas and major droughts in southern Europe, North Africa, the southwestern United States, and western Australia will increase as atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations continue to rise, and persist long after they hit peak levels. The paper, “Irreversible climate change due to carbon dioxide emissions,” is based on research led by Susan Solomon at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The “Bathtub Effect” visually illustrates why stabilizing emissions of greenhouse gases will not immediately stabilize the climate. Think of the atmosphere as a bathtub with a partially opened drain. Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from burning fuels and destruction of forests – the faucet – are flowing into the tub twice as fast as they are being absorbed by plants and the ocean – the drain. Meanwhile, the “sinks” – forests and oceans that absorb greenhouse gases – are becoming saturated, so the drain is clogged up.

For an interactive visual demonstration of the Bathtub Effect, click here:
http://www.seed.slb.com/en/scictr/watch/climate_change/anim/challenge/index.htm

To read more on the Greenhouse Effect and the Bathtub Effect, click here:
http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/01/28/the-greenhouse-effect-and-the-bathtub-effect/

To read the paper, “Irreversible climate change due to carbon dioxide emissions,” click here:
http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2009/01/28/0812721106.full.pdf+html